The History of the Orkney Chair

The Orkney chair is a traditional piece of furniture dating back many hundreds of years. While many of the old straw crafts have died out, the Orkney chair is still in production, taking pride of place in the home of many Orcadians as well as being shipped all over the world.

My ancestors making Orkney chairs in the early 1900s

The chair has a heritage stretching back hundreds of years. Originally designed to be a simple, functionable piece of furniture, it was created from materials gathered from the natural environment of the islands.

Orcadian crofters were resourceful people. A lack of natural woodland in Orkney meant they had to scour the shoreline looking for driftwood to transform into small and sturdy chairs. Some were even built entirely from straw collected from local fields, with only the four legs being made from wood.

There was no set design. Every maker had their own style, their own sizes and their own preferences. They were made for the person, by the person. On the whole the chairs were low to the ground so the occupant could avoid the smoke from the open peat fires, which were traditionally in the middle of the room in old croft houses. The simple structure hid a number of crucial functions, though.

The straw backs kept the warmth from the fire in, and the draughts from the sometimes-wild Orkney weather out. The addition of a hood to the chairs gave additional shelter, and a drawer was used to store personal belongings – but only if enough driftwood could be scavenged from the shore.

They were no frills, very much handmade but no less essential parts of old Orcadian homes.

Nowadays they have become much sought-after decorative pieces of furniture, often the centrepiece of modern family home. We have sold chairs to customers from around the world, many with Orkney connections, keen to keep a link to their ancestors and the history of the islands.

Explore our full range of traditional and contemporary chairs to find the style and design that suits you. Our chairs can be made to measure and can personalised too. We spend around one hundred hours on each chair, using many of the same construction methods as the makers that have gone before us. We use our eyes, our hands and our experience to build your chair, ensuring it will last for generations to come.